The Joke, Acrylic on Canvas, 48″x60″
Winston Churchill never said “history is written by the victors”. This mindset is considered in poor taste by historians. After all, the viking invasions in europe were not recorded by the vikings, but by the conquered: the monks, the literate class. However I do not feel that this is an appropriate citation for pre-modern and modern history and political issues.
This piece is meant to mock historical academia and its glorification of itself. Historical paintings are often of grand scale, embellishing events far beyond realism to the point where figures begin to take on a religious quality. With the combination of typical historical “regalia” and a style of abstraction, this work is meant to be commentary on the reverence of historical scholarship and it’s ideals.
What do you feel when you see “historical symbols”? The typical decorations of glory are here, specifically of the 20th century and it’s politics. These are relics that are often meant to incite feelings of pride, bravery, hope, patriotism; a desire to serve, awe for the accomplishments of men. While the aesthetics can be appealing, those in academia and those captivated by works that make use of these things must be wary. Not everyone will draw a positive connotation with these visuals; they are also symbols of war, death, needless violence; crimes against those who have been unjustly taken advantage of and brutalized by the institutions that hold this art in reverence. I have asked myself how I can unite my interest in history with my interest in the arts, and this piece is the result of much introspection: much of the art I have admired and the aesthetics that I co-opt are rooted in ideologies and institutions that are the opposite of what I would like to use my art for. Here, the central figure plays a song; he is the one telling this story. The camera has been flipped from the typical historical scene to a fusion of the historian and the artist, who tells about great things and great thinkers with a narrow lense. Fields of grain, arms, flags and banners, instruments singing in victory. Who is he to decide that something was great? Can’t you throw some gold on anything and call it a masterpiece?
The process and research for this work are closely tied to my paper and the realizations I have made along the way about history and the methods with which it is recorded. A couple of weeks ago I realized that I had gotten too far into this, I was thinking too much, and nothing was happening; and then I thought about how seriously I was taking it. So I stopped, and just began to paint whatever came to mind. This work is the result of that: a joke. I was challenging myself to do a grandiose composition, but I had no content. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was no point in repeating another classical historical painting in the endless centuries of these compositions. Much of my initial inspiration was drawn from photobooks, but stylistically this work was informed by work typical of the early 20th century, somewhere between political murals and expressionism. The style of abstraction was inspired by Marsden Hartley, the the title is owed to Milan Kundera’s novel “The Joke”.